RALEIGH — Judge Vincent Rozier stopped a15-year-old boy as he was about to be ushered out of a Wake County district courtroom by bailiffs.
Son, give your mother a hug goodbye, Rozier said.
The district court judge presiding over the juveniles hearing had just found that prosecutors had presented enough evidence to try the Raleigh boy on a charge of first-degree murder, a finding that under state law automatically sends the case into the adult court system.
The teen wrapped his arms around his mother, buried his head against her and embraced a moment that in many ways symbolized a farewell to childhood.
The boy is one of five juveniles accused of robbing and bludgeoning Regynald Brown to death in December, then hiding the body inside a city-issued garbage cart in a tunnel along the Walnut Creek Trail leg of the Capital Area Greenway in Southeast Raleigh.
One of the boys, 14 now but 13 in late November or early December when investigators believe Brown was killed, has struck a deal with prosecutors to keep his case in juvenile court.
Names not yet disclosed
Last week, a different Wake County district court judge sent the case of another 15-year-old accused of first-degree murder in the Brown homicide case to the adult system.
Another 15-year-old accused in the case struck a plea deal with prosecutors in exchange for his testimony. His case also was transferred to adult court on a first-degree murder charge. In exchange for his agreement to testify in trials of his codefendants, he is unlikely to be convicted of any charge more serious than second-degree murder, which does not carry the possibility of a sentence of life in prison.
One of the 15-year-old defendants, described as the ringleader by investigators and other boys accused in the homicide, has not yet gone before a judge to find out whether prosecutors have enough evidence to try him for first-degree murder and send the case into the adult system.
In juvenile court, the boys names are kept secret, a public and legal acknowledgement of their youth. In the adult court system, the boys will be treated similarly to grown men.
None of the teens has been indicted by a Wake County grand jury, and until then their names continue to be kept secret.
But from the juvenile proceedings, details of the crimes they are accused of have begun to emerge.
Big Money Swag
Brown, the father of three daughters a 5-year-old, 13-year-old and 15-year-old had been down on his luck in late 2012, picking up construction work when he could. He had been living with friends and in a tent that he pitched near the Walnut Creek Trail leg of the Capital Area Greenway in Southeast Raleigh.
The boys accused of killing Brown lived near the city trail.
While hanging out at the park or in someones home, the boys affiliated with each other under the gang name BMS, or Big Money Swag. The older teens laid out challenges for the younger ones to earn stars a loose ranking system, or hierarchy grounded in robberies and attacks on the homeless in their midst.
Though the accused teens have provided a series of inconsistent stories since their detention in December, the overarching outline remains similar.
Sometime in late November or early December, one of the boys decided they would go as a group to the Walnut Trail, where some of Wake Countys homeless congregated. Their intent was robbery, or a lick, as they called the thievery, according to testimony.
One afternoon, at about 3:30 p.m. or 4 p.m., Brown was coming along the trail on the bicycle he used for transportation, according to testimony. Two of the boys hid behind a wooden-bridge rail and others climbed high enough on another structure so they were screened from plain view.
One of the boys, according to several of the stories, threw a rock that was at least the size of a baseball onto Browns head. They knocked him off his bike and then began beating him.
Two of the boys have been singled out as throwing more punches and kicking Brown in the head. They had done this on the same trail before, prosecutors contend. Some of the older boys shot phone video of one of the incidents in which they forced a homeless man to eat feces, prosecutors and witnesses alleged.
The boys left Brown badly beaten on the trail and went back either the next day or several days later to hide his body in a roll-out garbage cart, prosecutors contend.
Defense attorney Mike Klinkosum asked the judge to set bail for the 15-year-old in court on Tuesday, saying the teen could live with his mother while awaiting trial or with a man who had taken him after his mother tried to get him away from bad influences in the Southeast Raleigh neighborhood near the homicide scene.
Rozier ordered the boy to be held without bail.
The judge also took a moment during the hearing to talk about the many lives affected by the case. It would be inhumane of me not to acknowledge the tragedy, Rozier said. It was the unfortunate end to a mans life.